Americans in Paris

From Ralph Lauren to Rick Owens, we look at the most influential American designers in the fashion capital

For the last 80 years, American fashion designers have been making their mark in France. During to World War II, Paris’ reputation as the global fashion capital diminished, as shops and factories were forced to close, and the “American Look” grew in popularity throughout Europe. Today, a few American designers are among the renowned few to show at Paris Fashion Week, and have some of the most prestigious boutiques in the city.

Chicago native Main Rousseau Bocher stayed in Paris after serving in World War I and began his career in fashion. First as a fashion illustrator for Harper’s Bazaar, he later became editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris. His experience and critical eye helped him establish his own label in 1929.

Mainbocher Couture was founded on Avenue George V in Paris. His complex cuts, clean lines and elegant designs led him to be the first American invited to show by the French Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, preceding the only other American designer recognized, Ralph Rucci, by over 60 years.

Before the German Occupation closed Paris off to the world, the designer presented his last collection featuring the ‘Mainbocher Corset.’ Prefacing Christian Dior’s ‘New Look,’ he redefined the formless silhouette of the 1930s with a nipped waist, emphasized bosom and draped back. During one of his last photoshoots at the Vogue Paris offices, photographer Horst P. Horst immortalized the corset in one of the most famous photographs of his career.

Mainbocher has been dormant since 1971, but this May, news on the label made headlines. French entrepreneur Arnaud de Lummen, the man behind the rebirth of Vionnet and Moynat, has acquired the brand’s rights, with extensive plans for a relaunch. The designer who took French couture creativity and presented it with American perfectionism will be a name to watch out for in the near future.

Rick Owens
This American fashion designer founded his eponymous fashion house in Los Angeles in 1994. After gaining recognition from an editorial where Kate Moss wore one of his distressed leather jackets, Owens presented his first collection at New York Fashion Week for fall/winter 2002. Just a year later, he moved his atelier to Paris.

Famous for his fitted leather jackets, threadbare t-shirts and deconstructed skirts, he set up his fashion house on the Left Bank, and opened his first boutique in Palais Royal in 2005.

Owens is celebrated for his ‘glunge’ (glamour meets grunge) style. “I try to make clothes the way Lou Reed does music, direct with minimal chord changes, and sweet but kind of creepy. It's about giving everything I make a worn, softened feeling. It's about an elegance tinged with a bit of the barbaric, the sloppiness of something dragging and the luxury of not caring,” said Owens.

Ralph Lauren
Fascinated by the luxurious lifestyle of New York’s high society, Ralph Lipschitz opened his first boutique in Manhattan in 1967. In 1969, with the launch of his women’s ready-to-wear line, the designer changed his name to the forever recognizable Ralph Lauren.

Inspired by collegiate yearbooks, Lauren created his ‘Ivy League aristocratic style’ of luxury meets casual. He pioneered the “Lifestyle Industry” that not only focuses on fashion, but also on a culture’s values and aspirations. Bringing a world of ultimate luxury to the customer, Lauren inaugurated his flagship in Paris’ Saint Germain neighborhood in 2010. Built on the foundation of an old monastery in 1682, this private mansion was once home to the Dutch Embassy, Carnegie Foundation of International Peace and now, after four years of restoration, Ralph Lauren’s flagship store.

His largest store worldwide houses a range of Ralph Lauren Labels, as well as fine and vintage accessories, including timepieces. In the attic-turned-Colorado-cabin, you will find the RRL western wear collection. If that’s not enough to satisfy your appetite for his classic Americana style, the designer invites you to dine in store.

Ralph’s, located in the building’s old stables and courtyard, offers American classics from Maine lobster to burgers with Angus beef imported from his ranch in Colorado. “I wanted to create a unique environment that captures the glamour, culture and the artistic spirit of the Paris that I fell in love with,” said Lauren.

See all our fashion articles here